- In July, early-stage venture firm CRV announced that Anna Khan was joining the organization as general partner to focus on developer application startups. Khan is the third female general partner in CRV history, and the only sitting female general partner.
- Khan started Launch X, an incubator for female founders to teach the ins and outs of raising venture capital, while she was at Harvard Business School.
- Kahn told Business Insider that early-stage venture capital, specifically at the Series A stage, has been “lost” as it tries to compete with larger, later stage investments from growth funds like Softbank’s massive Vision Fund.
- She said that she is taking a thematic approach to investing at CRV by focusing on areas of interest, like developer tools, instead of clear-cut financial information.
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Anna Khan is used to being the only woman in the room.
The Pakistan-raised, New York-born investor recently joined early-stage venture firm CRV as general partner in July — only the third woman in the firm’s fifty-year-old history to hold that title, and the only woman at the firm in the role right now.
Khan has been familiar with the experience with since joining Bessemer Venture Partners in 2016 as a junior staff member. Venture capital is still overwhelmingly white and male, and Khan’s previous experience in startups didn’t prepare her for the uniformity of the venture capital industry.
“You can’t ever ignore that you’re the only woman in the room,” Khan told Business Insider.
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So she created Launch X, a startup accelerator for female founders to learn more about fundraising venture capital. She was taking time off from Bessemer to attend Harvard Business School, and realized many of her classmates didn’t have the first idea of how to go about pitching investors for the capital to build their own businesses.
“Y Combinator and Techstars teach you the nuts and bolts of building a startup, but no one talked about the network game and art of venture capital,” Khan said. “Male founders get that kind of information passed on to them. It’s not their fault but that information is not passed down to us, but it’s partially because there aren’t enough of us.”
Now, Khan has her biggest platform yet. At CRV, her position as a general partner means she has a checkbook to cut deals of her own.
“I know I was hired for my accomplishments, but it’s not lost on me that it means a lot to bring a woman to the table, and, frankly, a woman of color,” Khan said.
Helping early-stage venture capital find its way
Khan first learned about venture capital in a class at Stanford University in Palo Alto, as happens a lot in Silicon Valley. Before moving to California, Khan had never thought about entrepreneurship or technology as passion projects, but that changed as soon as she walked across the graduation stage.
“I wanted to dabble in this thing called ‘startup land’,” Khan told Business Insider.
She helped run 4Info, a mobile ad analytics startup, as chief of staff to the CEO. She got a crash course in everything from managing payroll and business development to raising almost $60 million in venture funding — at the time, an anomalously large round, but which basically equates to chump change in 2019, amid mega-rounds for even small companies.
Since 2011, venture capital has gotten increasingly competitive to the point where investors are looking for milestones earlier in a company’s lifecycle than ever before.
“Ten years ago, if you told someone that you have to wait until you get to $1 million in [annual revenue] to write you a check, they’d think you were crazy,” Khan said.
Now that she’s in a position to write the checks herself, Khan is eager to get back to what she calls “true” venture capital that relies on belief in a team and an idea rather than financial forecasts.
“Venture investing itself was kind of getting lost,” Khan said, “There’s this big gap today in Series A investing, where you have all these accelerators and seed funds that back companies that are really just ideas, and then you have hedge funds and growth funds coming downstream.”
Khan’s fix? Stick to what you know, which for her is developer applications and tools. She will help CRV build out its portfolio of developer-centric investments based on her experience investing in the space at Bessemer and while she helped run 4Info.
“If you’re not doing thematic investing, it’s mostly just opportunistic. I care less about [a company’s] financial traction and look at other ways to evaluate success before the financial levers are turned out. Venture investing is easy because it just becomes an equation when the financial levers are turned on.”
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